Barr, Nevada. The Rope. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jan. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780312614577. $25.99. F
The adventures of park ranger Anna Pigeon have filled the pages of 16 books, and now her legion of loyal fans can find out how her story began. After her husband’s death in 1995, Anna leaves New York City to take a seasonal position at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. On a hike to explore the dry canyon lands around Lake Powell, Anna literally falls into a mystery. Fighting thirst and drug-induced delirium, she extricates herself from the dry well and begins to unravel the who and why of her tortuous ordeal. Barr’s luxuriant depictions of desert landscapes with its colors and hues and details about Lake Powell’s tourist population are interwoven into the narrative as an indispensable element of her popular series. Anna emerges from this canyon escapade as a strong, determined woman who plans to return to park service employment as a law enforcement ranger, stating that more women should carry guns. VERDICT Another awesome winner for Barr. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/11.]‚ Patricia Ann Owens, Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mount Carmel
Byatt, A.S. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods. Grove. Feb. 2012. c.192p. ISBN 9780802129925. $24. F
Byatt’s retelling of Norse mythology has the fearsome immediacy of modern apocalyptic fiction. The novel’s only modern character, a young British girl immersed in reading Asgard and the Gods during World War II‚ surely Byatt herself‚ is barely fleshed out; Byatt calls her the thin girl in an ironic wink. But through her we feel that impending wartime doom, even as we are treated to the poetical lushness of both the English landscape and the mythical Norse world, the latter more wild than any medieval bestiary. And we learn the power of plot and story, which are stronger than the gods, who knew the end was coming but could do nothing to stop it. The Götterdämmerung can be interpreted on many levels: Loki’s daughter Jormungandr, a serpent who greedily eats almost any sea life she encounters until she grows so large that she encircles the world and bites herself painfully on the tail, is a prescient metaphor for our ecological shortsightedness. Byatt’s vision is grim and unredemptive; she rejects any Christian interpretation as a corruption of the original myth. VERDICT Required reading for those interested in Byatt, Norse mythology, or stirring story craft.‚ Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
Auslander, Shalom. Hope: A Tragedy. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781594488382. $26.95. F
Solomon Kugel is obsessed with death and what his last words will be. Having moved to the country for some peace and quiet, he discovers that he has a supposedly long-dead Holocaust victim living in his farmhouse attic. What’s worse, he won’t ask her to leave. He fears that as a Jew he will be ostracized for making a famous concentration camp victim homeless‚ never mind that he’s discovered that the bad smell in the house is from her using the heating vents as her toilet. In this hilarious farce, we inhabit the musings of Kugel as he deals with what initially seems like a minor inconvenience in his home life. Soon, however, events spin out of control as he is injured, loses his job, and alienates his wife. VERDICT With underlying ghoulish humor‚ it’s risky to engage lightheartedly with the Holocaust‚ Auslander provides a brisk narrative marked by a continuing parade of sharp, ironic asides as Kugel’s life falls apart piece by piece. A darkly ambitious undertaking in absurdity that essentially mimics the problems of real life; recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 9/30/11.]‚ Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos P.L., CA
Upper Class Crime
Grippando, James. Need You Now. Harper: HarperCollins. Jan. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780061840302. $25.99. F
Swiss banks, which have always retained a cachet of confidentiality and mystery, have proved excellent fodder for many a thriller’s plot, and Grippando’s latest is no exception. In the wake of the suicide of Ponzi-scheme mastermind Abe Cushman (think Bernie Madoff), Patrick Lloyd, a Wall Street adviser for the Bank of Switzerland, is sent to its Singapore branch to discover what Lilly Scanlon may know about her client’s scheme. When Patrick and Lilly quickly fall in love, they are imperiled as Cushman’s most dangerous investors seek to recover their money. VERDICT Grippando’s growing legion of fans will be delighted that recurring character FBI agent Andie Henning (Afraid of the Dark) makes an appearance here. Readers who enjoy a good thriller with a constantly twisting plot will appreciate this timely novel. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/11; Grippando is also a lawyer who works at the firm that filed one of the first lawsuits to recover the money of Madoff’s victims.‚ Ed.]‚ Vicki L. Gregory, Univ. of South Florida Sch. of Information, Tampa
Alger, Cristina. The Darlings. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Feb. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9780670023271. $26.95. F
Alger’s debut tracks a single week in the fortunes, or, rather, misfortunes, of the Darlings, a pedigreed Manhattan family whose lavish lifestyle depends on the positive performance of Delphic, their financial investment firm. All goes awry when Morty Reis, a family friend and Delphic’s most successful fund manager, tosses himself off the Tappan Zee Bridge. Unfortunately for son-in-law Paul Ross, this terrible event happens around the time of his signing on as the firm’s legal counsel and the receipt of pointed phone calls from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He begins to suspect that Morty had engaged in fraudulent schemes that will bring down the family. Will Paul be pulled into the moral quagmire of a family cover-up, extricate himself by cooperating with the SEC and thereby lose his lovely wife, or be hung out to dry by the Darlings as the scapegoat? Throughout the novel, Alger introduces us to flawed but sympathetically drawn characters and depicts socialite parties, luscious dinners, exquisite clothes, and holidays in the Hamptons. VERDICT Alger, a former Goldman Sachs analyst and attorney, has written a financial thriller with a tone that fits somewhere between the novels of Dominick Dunne (though not as flippant) and Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (though not as serious). [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/11.]‚ Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Lib., Washington, DC
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